The story begins with a gift. It’s 1899 in Encampment, a mining village in Wyoming, a region of forests now the land of writers like Annie Proulx and Craig Jhonson.
Born into a modest family, for her sixteenth birthday Lora Webb Nichols receives a precious gift from a man much older than her, who will soon become her husband: a camera.
They divorce after a short while, what remains is the camera, which the young girl uses to portray her family and all the inhabitants of the village: a nursing woman, one combing her long hair, miners at work, a ‘saloon’ sign and blue-eyed cowboys, the arrival of the railroad.
With an instrument that allowed her to enter the working-class world of cowboys and miners, Nichols was as much a pioneer as those she portrayed.
Photographer and curator Nicole Jean Hill was commissioned to select and edit these images. Soon, ‘Lora Webb Nichols, Homesteader’s Daughter, Miner’s Bride,’ a book written in the 1990s by Nancy Anderson whose title is surprising given its protagonist’s characteristics of strength and independence, reached her. From here, Hill takes some parts of the diaries written by the photographer during her youth and brings them back into the book, allowing us to dive even deeper into this woman’s view of the American West.
On the cover, a female figure stands out in a landscape with a wide horizon. With her back to us, she is leaning on a crutch and feeding a cat balanced between her arm and the hip of her mistress. A sweet image, but also full of strangeness and mystery: it perfectly sums up the author’s universe and warns us that nothing is predictable in these pages.